(A group of six boys and girls, who are tourists from a faraway place, are visiting Bidar’s madrasa.)
BOY 1: If the ruins look like this, imagine what the building would have looked like in its days of glory!
BOY 2: Yes, I have seen the picture of this madrasa as it used to be in those times. It was in our history book. It was just wonderful! And how exciting this place would have been when people actually lived here! Hey, you know what they say about such old monuments? That they whisper in the night . . .
GIRL 1: God, that’s scary!
BOY 3: This same madrasa looks marvellous in our history books. But when you see it here...why? Why is it like this?
BOY 1: Actually, there should be guides around here to explain all this to us.
GIRL 2: Forget guides, not a soul from the city seems to pass by here!
BOY 2: I suppose people who see this every day don’t find it special. Look, someone is coming. We’ll ask him, wait. Sir! Hello...
STRANGER: (Stands and looks at them questioningly) What?
BOY 2: Is there no guide here who can tell us something about this monument, sir?
STRANGER: No. Not if you want someone who knows a lot about this. But do you see that old man sitting there? If you ask him, he will tell you everything about its history. To tell you the truth, he’s the only man who can tell you exactly what happened here. In fact, he tells the story like it’s all happening right in front of your eyes! I don’t think any guide can match him in this!
GIRL 2: If we go to him and ask for information about this building, he’ll tell us, won’t he?
STRANGER: Yes, go ask him. Though I must warn you, he’s a little crazy! Sometimes, he starts imagining that he himself is the diwan of those times. You should bear with this for a bit.
GIRL 3: (Alarmed) You mean...?
STRANGER: Now, now, don’t be so alarmed! While narrating, he gets excited and starts acting like he was right there when all this history happened! You just nod your head and keep saying “ha” or “yes”, and listen to him quietly. You see, he’s the only man who can give you authentic information about all this. He knows secrets lost to history. Suddenly, you’ll see him acting like he is Gawan himself. He’ll even tell you that he had this madrasa built! If you pretend to believe him a little...he’s really a lively old man, you know!
GIRL 1: He won’t harm us or something, will he?
STRANGER: Che, che, he’s a good old man. If you want me to, I’ll go with you. You don’t get bored even if you hear his story a hundred times. Come, let’s go.
(They all go to the old man sitting alone at a distance)
STRANGER: I salute you, Grandpa! How’re you?
OLD MAN: Who are they?
STRANGER: Grandpa, these are college students. They have come to see Bidar. You please tell them something about the history of this place and what happened here.
OLD MAN: I see. What have you come here to know?
GIRL 2: Everything. When was this madrasa built? Who built it? Tell us the story right from the beginning, Grandpa!
OLD MAN: Ha, that’s a long story, Little Sister! See, this is a madrasa...in its time, there wasn’t another educational institution of this calibre on the entire globe! The world’s greatest pundits, scientists and astronomers were here! Those thirsty for knowledge came here from all corners of the world! It was well known that the education you got here was not available anywhere else. Even the great Vijayanagar kings didn’t have a university like this. A famous traveller of those times declared that this madrasa could put even the grand old Roman institutions of knowledge to shame!
GIRL 3: Then why did that legendary university become like this? Who built it? Who destroyed it? Our history books say that this was built by Mahmoud Gawan, who was the minister, the diwan, at that time. They describe him in glowing terms, saying that he was a splendid scholar, poet, scientist, educationist, politician, philosopher and what not. You tell us about him first.
OLD MAN: Yes! It was the same diwan, whom you described as poet, scientist and so on, who built this madrasa. What’s more, he built it with his own money! He’d pay the scholars here out of his salary. Even the king didn’t know all this.
BOY 2: They say he came from Iran. Why did he come here?
OLD MAN: Wait, I’ll tell you everything! This isn’t some “Once-upon-a-time” type of story, okay? You know, it really happened. A history book is based on facts which historians know. But what I’m going to give you is an eyewitness account! You’ll realise this soon enough.
GIRL 1: Right, you start from Mahmoud Gawan.
OLD MAN: Then listen, I’ll tell you the story . . . Gawan’s uncle was the minister for the king of Iran. Young Gawan helped his uncle in his office. Later, he even became the deputy minister. Although the position wasn’t all that important, it gave him a lot of work experience. Many years passed. He became famous for his valour, his administrative acumen and his sharp intellect. At this time, because of some political instability in the kingdom, the whole administrative order crashed. People were distraught. They were turbulent times indeed!
Finally, our Gawan left the kingdom with his uncle and went back to his native village. Later, by a strange happenstance, he met our religious guru, Khwaja Kirmani, there. It was Khwaja Kirmani who told Gawan about the great Sufi saint Bande Nawaz. This changed Gawan’s life!
Khwaja Kirmani told Gawan, “Khwaja Bande Nawaz is the greatest saint of our times. He knew god. He travelled across the world, gained a lot of experiences in life, and disseminated his wisdom to all. So, instead of living in a place where people fight over petty things, you go to Hindustan, where Bande Nawaz lived and worked for religious harmony. In Hindustan, people live together with a thousand different faiths and a hundred different philosophies. Despite all this diversity, they respect each other and live in harmony. I think this is the right way to live.”
The moment he heard this, Gawan decided to go to India. He left his wife and children in Iran and set off.
BOY 3: Did he come here directly?
OLD MAN: But he’d need a job to live in India, right? So, he brought a team of horses on the ship to trade. When he got off in Kabola in Ratnagiri district, the administrators of Vijayanagar kingdom went to him and bought all the horses, except two, for a cheap price they set. Later, Gawan came to Gulbarga with the two horses left.
GIRL 2: Gulbarga? Why?
OLD MAN: In this place, Khwaja Bande Nawaz had conducted a famous experiment with Shivalinga Swami of the Savalagi matha. Gawan wanted to see this place.
GIRL 1: What experiment was that? We haven’t heard of it!
OLD MAN: In a small village called Savalagi in Gulbarga, a young swami treated Hindus and Muslims alike. He tried to bring harmony between these two communities. Bande Nawaz went there and joined the young swami in his endeavours. They became great friends. As a token of their friendship, they swapped clothes. They came up with a new slogan, “Din Hara Hara”, for their mission of binding the two religions together. Have you young people ever been to the Savalagi matha, the swami’s ashram?
BOY 1: Oho, we’ve seen it. Even went to the fair there!
GIRL 3: Yes, yes! The current swamiji wore green clothes that day! So, they have continued the old tradition in the ashram all these years! Our swami must have worn green robes to commemorate that historical meeting between Bande Nawaz and Shivalinga Swami. But of course, we didn’t know this story when we were there.
OLD MAN: Even if he’d been a king, he couldn’t have done more for humanity! After all, what can a king do? Dig a lake, make a road or plant trees on either side of the road, what else? Today, there are 360 mathas named after this boy swami in the southern country! These ashrams are places which quench people’s thirst for knowledge. I had the privilege of seeing that holy matha. That boy swami was no ordinary man. He dreamt godlike dreams! He had enough goodness in him to regenerate a whole nation! I saw the matha. His grave is there.
GIRL 2: And then?
OLD MAN: Then I came to Bidar!
Excerpted with permission from Two Plays, Chandrasekhar Kambar, translated from the Kannada by Krishna Manavalli, Penguin Books.